Milwaukee adds Monroe at center of young lineup
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE--Putting the parts together in a rebuilding process can be a tricky business.
But when the pieces start to fall in place, it can be exhilarating.
That’s where the Milwaukee Bucks found themselves on Thursday when one of the top-rated centers in free agency, 6-foot-11 Greg Monroe, spurned offers by the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers and chose the Bucks.
Monroe agreed to a three-year, $50 million maximum salary contract with a player option in the third year. The deal will allow him to become a free agent again in 2017 when the salary cap for each NBA team is expected to rise to more than $100 million.
An early morning presentation in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday featuring Bucks coach Jason Kidd and Marc Lasry, one of the team’s new owners, helped sway Monroe.
The former Detroit Pistons big man wanted to join a playoff-ready team with a talented young core, according to agent David Falk, and that team was the Bucks.
The Portland Trail Blazers, Knicks and Lakers also offered maximum deals ranging from one to four years, according to published reports.
In his five seasons with the Pistons, Monroe averaged 14.3 points and 9.2 rebounds. He averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds last season and was fifth in the league in points in the paint per game (11.4).
Monroe, 25, gives the Bucks a legitimate low-post scoring threat to go alongside 20-year-olds Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt. The backcourt is set with shooting guard Khris Middleton, 23, and point guard Michael Carter-Williams, also 23.
The Bucks agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal with Middleton, who was a restricted free agent, on Wednesday in the first day of free agency. They will sign Monroe into available cap space and use the Larry Bird rights to go over the cap to sign Middleton.
The Bird rights refer to teams being allowed to go over the cap to sign their own players, so named because the Boston Celtics were the first team to do it when they re-signed Bird.
Monroe never reached the playoffs in five seasons in Detroit and wanted to join a team on the rise.
Kidd’s star power also was important. Falk said in an interview with CBSSports.com that the Bucks coach has a reputation “for making the people around him better, both as a player and as a coach.”
Monroe was impressed that the Bucks made a 26-game improvement under Kidd last season after finishing with the league’s worst record (15-67) during the 2013-’14 season.
Big-market teams have seen their advantages diminish under the new collective bargaining agreement, with a more restrictive salary cap and harsher luxury tax penalties.
Bucks general manager John Hammond and assistant general manager David Morway have relied on drafting and key trades to assist in the team’s rebuild.
For instance, Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th overall in 2013 and has emerged as a dynamic player in his first two seasons. A trade for Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton—sending Brandon Jennings to Detroit in 2013—also brought two key assets.
Middleton became part of the core while Knight improved greatly but was dealt at the trade deadline in February for Michael Carter-Williams, the league’s 2014 rookie of the year.
Knight agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract with Phoenix this week, while the Bucks were positioned to get deals with Middleton and Monroe.
Contracts cannot be signed until July 9 when the NBA’s moratorium ends.
Monroe, a former Georgetown star, is a low-post threat and appears to be a great fit in Kidd’s offense, which was missing inside scoring last season.
Monroe’s defensive liabilities can be covered with the length and athleticism of the young players on the roster, and it’s possible he could play in tandem at times with shot-blocking big man John Henson.
Monroe is a left-handed shooter with a deft touch around the basket and also is a decent free-throw shooter, averaging nearly 70 percent from the line in his career and 75 percent last season.
Monroe’s deal will average $16.6 million, surpassing the average (but not the length or total dollars) of Middleton’s contract.
It is the richest average salary in franchise history, surpassing the $15.2 million average in Michael Redd’s six-year, $91 million maximum deal he signed in 2005.
The shorter term of the contract could be good for both sides, with Monroe able to be a free agent again after two seasons and the Bucks not locked into a long-term contract.
Some NBA players are opting for shorter deals during this free-agent cycle due to the larger contracts anticipated when the cap elevates and the league’s new TV deal kicks in for the 2016-’17 season.
Monroe did not want to be a restricted free agent last season and instead gambled on himself by accepting Detroit’s $5.5 million qualifying offer last season.
But his move paid off handsomely as he parlayed a strong season into a maximum contract.
The Bucks delegation that met with Monroe included Kidd, Lasry, Hammond, Morway and vice president of strategy and operations Alex Lasry.